Basics In Economic Development Is Business Retention

Julie Jordan of Mississippi State Community Action Team.

    One of the basic but too-often-overlooked principles in economic development is taking care of existing business, industry and assets previously established in a community.

    There are several good reasons based on “bird-in-the-hand” reasoning. In the first place, it costs far less to accommodate an existing industry to keep or add jobs than to lure new industry. Competition between communities to attract industry drives costs of recruitment incentives higher.

    In the second place, supporting existing business and industry is just the right thing to do. It rewards proven loyalty to our community and allows people who have made their homes here–those who have become our family  friends and part of our community, to be secure in their jobs and to feel more certain about planning for the future.

    For these reasons and more, support for existing business and industry should be a priority for city and county government and economic development organizations.

   Unfortunately, recent responses by Water Valley city government have not given the impression that it holds this priority. Its inability to comply with our largest manufacturer’s request for a tax exemption and its failure twice to muster a quorum to even consider a request from another of this community’s major economic engines convey the impression that we don’t really care whether they stay or leave.

   Existing assets need to be maintained for the same reasons in industry and business. Water Valley’s Main Street Program has been formed to protect those assets and to encourage their historic preservation. Yet the program could not have been adopted without private funding offered when the city withheld public funding.

    The facts may be more complex than that impression, but what we are dealing with is the perception of this community’s regard for its existing businesses, industry and assets. Right now, it is not good.

    What’s at stake is the city’s economic future. Without viable, good paying jobs that support middle class families, the city’s prognosis may not be strong.

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